There Are Three Types of People: Those Who Make Things Happen, Those Who Watch Things Happen, and Those Who Wonder What Happened

Nicholas Murray Butler? Tommy Lasorda? John Newbern? Laurence J. Peter? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a humorous three-fold categorization of people. The first group contains those who make things happen. Are you familiar with this saying? Would you please examine its provenance?

Quote Investigator: In March 1931 Nicholas Murray Butler who was the President of Columbia University in New York delivered a speech on Charter Day at the University of California. Butler split the population into thee sets, but he noted that individuals could move from one set to another. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The vast population of this earth, and indeed nations themselves, may readily be divided into three groups. There are the few who make things happen, the many more who watch things happen, and the overwhelming majority who have no notion of what happens. Every human being is born into this third and largest group; it is for himself, his environment and his education to determine whether he shall rise to the second group or even to the first.

Some periodicals and reference works identified Butler as the coiner of this expression, and researcher Barry Popik identified the pertinent speech.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Are Three Types of People: Those Who Make Things Happen, Those Who Watch Things Happen, and Those Who Wonder What Happened

Notes:

  1. 1931 March 29, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, THESE UNITED STATES–“A Nation Without Leaders or Political Parties; An Office-Seeking Class in Control” by Nicholas Murray Butler, Quote Page 6, Column 2, St. Louis, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)